Three amendments focus on funding and enforcing our federal laws on protecting animals and promoting species survival
The House yesterday took decisive action on a series of amendments to a massive, multi-agency spending bill (aka, “the mini-bus”) that marked one of the most successful days ever in that chamber and yet another marker of Animal Wellness’s presence and impact on Capitol Hill.
The Haley Stevens-Matt Gaetz amendment sought $2 million for the hire of dedicated Department of Justice personnel to enforce the federal animal fighting laws, the Horse Protection Act, the Crush Video law, and the Animal Welfare Act. It passed in a lopsided vote of 381-50.
“Congress has made great strides to improve our animal welfare laws and rid this country of heartless cruelty toward animals, yet there are currently insufficient resources to ensure that these laws are adequately enforced,” said Congresswoman Haley Stevens, D-Michigan, who led the amendment with Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and more than a half dozen other lawmakers. “This amendment takes bold action to both defend the rights of animals and protect the safety of our communities.”
If that wasn’t enough on enforcement, our team worked with lawmakers to advance and then secure passage of a second amendment specifically focused on USDA’s responsibilities to investigate cases of illegal dogfighting and cockfighting, including in the U.S. territories.
“Enforcement by USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is responsible for investigating these crimes, has badly lagged,” noted freshmen Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, who led the effort to secure an additional $1 million in funding for the USDA with veteran Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. and a number of other lawmakers from both parties. “Addressing these crimes will not only help prevent the suffering of animals, but will also deter the drug trafficking, gang violence, and other violence against people that goes hand-in-hand with animal fighting activities,” he added.
Just minutes later, the House voted in favor of the Vern Buchanan-Jared Huffman amendment to restrict imports of sport-hunted trophies of elephants and lions from three of Africa’s biggest trophy hunting countries (Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). It passed by a decisive vote of 239 – 193. Rep. Earl Blumenauer D-Oregon, the House’s leading animal welfare advocate, played a crucial role in passing the measure, over the opposition of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. Betty McCollum D-Minn., chair of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee, was also instrumental in securing the win in a contested vote.
In 2017, President Trump, responding to his own Interior Department’s declaration that it would resume granting import permits for trophy tusks, called trophy hunting of elephants “a horror show.” Since then, the agency has not allowed elephant trophies in, and the Buchanan amendment seeks to establish that as an unambiguous policy of the United States. It’s not clear what the Interior Department’s policy on lion imports is, and the just-passed amendment could slow down lion trophies coming into the U.S. substantially.
In last fall’s election, Animal Wellness Action played a critical role in ousting the former chairman of the Rules Committee, Pete Sessions, because he consistently blocked consideration of mainstream animal welfare concerns on the floor during his tenure – including measures on animal fighting, trophy hunting, horse slaughter, horse soring, and other anti-cruelty issues. You can draw a straight line from last year’s election – including his defeat where Animal Wellness Action highlighted his record to tens of thousands of voters in the 32nd Congressional District — to yesterday’s crucial House votes. The new leader of the House Rules Committee, Chairman Jim McGovern, is a stalwart animal advocate. He shepherded the bill to the floor, allowing the full House an opportunity to debate and vote on these measures.
The advancement of these amendments comes on the heels of the announcement made earlier this week by Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation regarding the establishment of the Animal Wellness National Law Enforcement Council (NLEC) co-chaired by former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and former Oregon District Attorney Joshua Marquis. That council continues to grow and I’m certain it’s going to have a major impact on enforcement of our anti-cruelty laws.
Even with these big gains, our work is not done. We must secure these provisions in the Senate spending bill.
But let me underscore what an historic achievement it was to pass three of three amendments on a single day. We thank the leaders of these amendments and the leadership of the House, including Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, for allowing these amendments to pass and all of the people like you who have made their feelings known to lawmakers on animal issues. (All of these votes will be included on the update of the Congressional Accountability Tool. Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.)
No animal should be the victim of a staged fight, sored in a horse barn, or crushed for amusement. And Africa’s extraordinary wildlife, particularly the beleaguered elephants and lions whose populations have dwindled, should be the focus of our protective efforts, not turned into animated targets by the few people who still enjoy shooting them dead for their tusks and manes.